Real Madrid are likely to be relying on the Champions League again for another trophy this season but there was room for encouragement against Barcelona last night beyond their resounding defeat.
Barça’s 3-0 victory (4-1 on aggregate) means they go through to meet either Valencia or Real Betis in the Copa del Rey final, while their lead at the top of La Liga already makes them heavy favourites for another domestic double.
Madrid have been unable to match the consistency of their rivals this term but there was enough in their performance at the Santiago Bernabeu to suggest they can do them damage when the sides meet again on Saturday in the league for a second Clasico in four days.
‘We are sad because we wanted to play in the final but we go out with our heads held high,’ Madrid coach Santiago Solari said.
‘We did everything we could. We didn’t take our chances and they took theirs.’
Midfielder Casemiro said Real were already looking forward to Saturday’s rematch.
‘We played well,’ said the Brazilian. ‘The result was not good but we will be waiting for them on Saturday. The result was not a fair reflection of the game.’
Vinicius Junior was Madrid’s brightest spark but he also missed a hatful of chances before Barça’s Luis Suarez scored twice, either side of a Raphael Varane own goal.
The worry for Solari is not that his side were unable to put Barcelona under pressure but that they failed to kill them off, with some again pointing to the absence of a predator like Cristiano Ronaldo.
‘Scoring one goal in 180 minutes of football is not enough to knock out Barcelona,’ said sports website AS on Wednesday. ‘Without pointing the blame, the truth is Los Blancos miss Cristiano Ronaldo in these types of games.’
Karim Benzema had helped fill the void during a golden streak earlier this year but he has faded, while Gareth Bale‘s patchy displays since returning from injury have seen him reduced to a role on the bench.
Vinicius is lively but the 18 year-old lacks composure in front of goal. ‘Vinicius does not have the precision to finish,’ said newspaper El Pais. ‘He is a reflection of the team he plays for, who are halfway to nobody knows where.’
Solari defended the youngster. ‘The more you play, the more you learn,’ he said.
In contrast, Suarez had barely touched the ball in the first half but came alive in the crucial moments and would have had a hat-trick had Varane not beaten him to Ousmane Dembele‘s cross to bundle in an own-goal.
‘When he is in the area he is at 200 per cent,’ Barça coach Ernesto Valverde said. ‘He has a sense for where the goal is.’
Suarez and Lionel Messi had both faced accusations of dips in recent weeks but the pair have now scored five goals in Barça’s last two games, following Messi’s hat-trick against Sevilla on Saturday.
Their surge is timely given a second leg against Lyon in the Champions League is just around the corner, with the tie goalless and delicately poised heading into the return at the Camp Nou.
‘We want to win everything,’ Valverde said. ‘That is what our fans want.’
Some have suggested going far in the Copa del Rey harms Barça’s chances in Europe but Valverde picked his strongest side against Madrid, and is likely to do so again on Saturday.
Barcelona lead Real by nine points in La Liga, with Atletico Madrid seven points behind and still the closest challengers.
‘They both seem far away but they are not,’ said Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. ‘We have to come here with our batteries fully charged again.’